This week, we discuss the risk of escalation in Ukraine; the North Korea-Russia-China Partnership; addressing food insecurity among veterans; why estimating disaster recovery costs is so difficult; strengthening the U.S. manufacturing workforce; and “self-driving” science labs.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was in Washington, D.C. this week. The visit comes as his country’s fight to expel Russian invaders continues with no end in sight, and as U.S. lawmakers prepare to vote on another round of defense and humanitarian aid.
The conflict thus far has been highly fluid, with repeated stalemates followed by periodic breakthroughs on both sides. Underlying these shifts is a persistent concern: the risk of an even wider, even more horrific war.
A new RAND report breaks down this risk, analyzing how greater escalation in the conflict, including potential Russian nuclear use, could still occur.
Escalation could happen deliberately—for example, if Russia decided to carry out a limited attack against NATO in Europe, or use nuclear weapons inside Ukraine. It could also occur inadvertently if, for instance, an aggressive Russian maneuver against U.S. surveillance aircraft led to the deaths of U.S. military personnel.
After exploring these and other scenarios, the authors highlight recommendations for Western policymakers. Maintaining NATO cohesion is a critical starting point. Agreement among allies about how much risk to take on is a key to both Ukraine's long-term success and to deterring potential Russian escalation.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un left eastern Russia on Sunday, capping off a six-day visit that served as a high-profile sign of the budding relationship between Pyongyang and Moscow. This pair of pariah states may be troubling enough. But China is also in the mix, creating a trilateral threat that the West must take seriously, says RAND's Bruce Bennett. While there are no silver bullets to stop this partnership, the United States and its allies can take a key first step to counter it: better understanding the future of warfare.
Veterans experiencing food insecurity are less likely than food-insecure nonveterans to be enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. A new RAND study identifies policy options to address this. For example, expanded screening that focuses on veterans who do not receive care through Veterans Affairs, older veterans, and veterans with disabilities could ensure that fewer food-insecure veterans fall through the cracks. Reducing SNAP eligibility requirements, such as income limits, could also help.
The initial estimate to rebuild the town of Lahaina following last month's devastating wildfire in Maui is $5.5 billion. This number is too low, says RAND's Aaron Strong, because the math on disaster recovery “isn't a simple sum of the losses.” The two main X factors are labor shortages and material shortages in the wake of a disaster, which inevitably make rebuilding slower and more expensive. This shows how large-scale reconstruction projects can fundamentally change local economics, Strong says, in ways that drive costs up, not down.
The U.S. manufacturing industry faces a growing need for highly skilled workers. A new RAND study examines this issue, focusing on Ohio, which has one of the largest manufacturing industries in the United States. The report finds that most Ohio students who earn postsecondary credentials in manufacturing end up working in other fields. This may suggest that there is a much larger supply of highly skilled manufacturing workers than is currently being used by the manufacturing industry—not just in Ohio, but across the country.
Picture a busy laboratory. It's humming with activity, but the lab is devoid of people. Instead of humans conducting the scientific experiments and analysis, machines and algorithms are doing the work. By combining advanced machinery and artificial intelligence, these “self-driving” labs, as they are called, could reshape scientific research as we know it. RAND's Joshua Steier and Rushil Bakhshi discuss the immense promise and potential perils of this innovation.
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